Opening Little Boxes

on 30 July

Opening Little Boxes'Opening Little Boxes' is a beautiful little book that captures a moment in our history in a very gentle and special way. It is the brainchild of Palliative Care specialist Dr Kees Lodder.  It brings together the insights of seven members of one family in lockdown.  Added to its uniqueness is that Kees co-ordinated four authors in three different lockdown bubbles in two countries (New Zealand and Portugal). Kees is Dutch, Manu is Portuguese, Cathy is Scottish, and Alex is a Kiwi, and their ages span two different generations.

The idea for the book originated when Kees and his Portuguese colleague Dr Manuela (Manu) Vidigal Bertão spent time volunteering in Bangladesh last year where they were asked to teach and help set up Palliative Care project for the Rohingya people.  They visited orphanages with a distinct lack of quality books for the children to read. The pair decided they would put pen to paper and write an inspirational book for the children, based on kindness, care and hope.

Then early this year Kees started hearing troubling reports from colleagues around the world about the COVID-19 virus. He decided to change the focus of their writing project to a story about a family's experience during a lockdown. He wanted a book that would to help people cope with the trauma of the pandemic and the anxiety of lockdown and spark discussions about what is truly important in life. Kees has always been concerned about the forgotten children when it comes to anxiety due to dying parents and whanau, living in humanitarian crisis situations and pandemics.

Kees developed the concept of the book with each chapter focusing on one family member. There are seven characters in the book - two children, Mum, Dad, Nana who moves in during lockdown and the family dog and cat. He came up with the characteristics of each family member, and their names which all have a symbolic element to them.  He decided there would be no conversations, no time reflected, and the book would have no particular setting. Instead, the book would capture each of the characters' own internal dialogue about what the pandemic and lockdown means to them, how that makes them feel and what they learn from the experience.

On 14 March, Kees said he locked himself in his home office and tackled the first chapter about the little girl, Uman who is a very bright but somewhat troubled character.  When his partner Auckland City councillor, Cathy Casey, asked to read Uman's chapter, she thought it was brilliant, and asked if she could write the chapter about Len, the kind dog and do the illustrations. Cathy's daughter, writer, Alex Casey also got on board perfectly capturing the essence of Gorgeous the Cat.  Manu took on Mum and Dad, and Kees also wrote the wise Nana and the boy, Nikau's chapters.

Kees works at North Haven Hospice as a Palliative Care Specialist and also for Northland DHB as clinical lead for the Palliative Care liaison team and is the senior medical officer for the Advance Care Planning working party. When he headed to work on Monday after writing Uman's chapter, he was asked to be involved in planning to deliver palliative care to COVID-19 patients. He said he was petrified about what was to come and used the book as a kind of therapeutic process.  

Kees said their enthusiasm for the project led to everything coming together including getting the book written while the theme is relevant, finding a local publisher in record time and getting former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Rt Hon. Helen Clark to write the foreword. 

'Opening Little Boxes' will be launched this evening at the Central City Library in Auckland.  Their archivist is very excited about the book and asked to keep all the old manuscripts and notes to add to their COVID-19 archive. Kees joins Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, Helen Clark and psychiatrist and award-winning author Dr Tony Fernando to speak on the night.

All of the authors’ royalties for the book are being donated to homeless charities Lifewise and the City Mission because of the work that Cathy has done over the years for the city's homeless, including taking part in the annual Lifewise Big Sleepout.

Finally, ‘Opening Little Boxes’ is dedicated to Kees' mother, who he and Cathy were planning to visit in the Netherlands later this year to celebrate her 100th birthday, but unfortunately, died on 21 April this year after contracting COVID-19 at her rest home.

The book will be translated into Mandarin, Portuguese, and Dutch and can be ordered online and will also be available through Amazon and eventually as an eBook. 

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